Sunday, September 30, 2012

Sunday roundup

Georgia (Republic of) has come a long way, but there are still disasters. Like the criminal justice system.

Also not functioning at optimal competence: Cambodia's tribunal.

A new book on the roots of the Vietnam war.

The metro DC region's biggest polluter is shutting down.

Steve Pearlstein gives voice to the job creators.

Some of the women who got us here. And yet, we're still in no way the richer sex. Here's why the man-crisis theory is appealing but false:
If the ascent of women has been much exaggerated, so has the descent of men. Men’s irresponsibility and bad behavior is now a stock theme in popular culture. But there has always been a subset of men who engage in crude, coercive and exploitative behavior. What’s different today is that it’s harder for men to get away with such behavior in long-term relationships. Women no longer feel compelled to put up with it and the legal system no longer condones it. The result is that many guys who would have been obnoxious husbands, behaving badly behind closed doors, are now obnoxious singles, trumpeting their bad behavior on YouTube.
How marketers convinced people they were better off medicated.

I took part of Parade's version of the citizenship test for fun. Someone has a sense of humor: one of the options for "what was the US most concerned about during the Cold War" was "climate change."

I hear this argument, but I'd still encourage anyone cycling in DC to wear a helmet. It is an issue with bike-share programs--we were just talking about that--but maybe bike-share stations should have lockers with helmets? Bring your own shower-cap if that makes you queasy, until they develop a sanitization system.

Patti LuPone calls out unwittingly obnoxious audience members.

Does Maureen Dowd's column have a point other than to tell the world that she's friends with André Leon Talley.

The other week's Style Invitational (scroll down to Report from Week 986) is not bad.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Saturday morning roundup

Spain's king is also its corporate ambassador.

Japan's tech industry has failed to adapt its business models to changing times and tastes. The Sony example the article uses sounds a lot like my experience with Panasonic: excellent camera, why bother with a user-friendly interface or software (mind you, this is not the case with Nikon).

Who are these misguided people in the letter writer's life? Carolyn brings words of wisdom:
You are the mother and primary influence on two children— girls, no less. Do you want them to tend to their clothes and bodies and dating mechanics, then consign the rest to hope? The palpably desperate hope that men will save them from being alone? Or, do you want them to tend to their minds, character, interests, senses of self, and physical and emotional hygiene, and to feel empowered to make good choices from there?

California residents, are you undecided about Preposition 37?

Facebook is good for something: letting companies know when they've made an inane business decision. Because the people who thought that selling peeled, shrink-wrapped bananas was a good idea are not going to figure it out for themselves.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Friday morning roundup

The Sudan-South Sudan agreement is lacking.

Some people could learn a thing or two about tolerance from Honey Boo Boo.

Is shaming a necessary anti-obesity evil?

The Onion on the latest news in castration.

Unlike the sentence-ending preposition stuff, the which/that rule is one I quite like. I'm less interested in the prescriptivist-descriptivist debate (which is a linguistic one) than I am in the need for clarity. We don't abide by grammatical rules and conventions arbitrarily; we do so to minimize strain and confusion on the part of our readers.

I've never understood the logic of, "we live in an age of gender equality, so I will slam that door in your face," but some guys apparently cling to it and very much so. Like the author, I tend to stand on the Metro, but I'm nonetheless encouraged when men offer me their seat (or even when women (or men) pause before claiming a newly-empty seat to ask whether I had my eyes on it). I'm also discouraged by the aggressive seat-vying, in addition to other inconsiderate metro behavior (pushing blind people out of the way, seat-hogging, aisle-hogging with luggage, etc.). So civility is always warranted on the Metro and elsewhere. And even though I certainly don't think I'm any more entitled to a seat than a man, and as mentioned, I don't even want one, I still found it off-putting (or, douchey) just yesterday when a young man went out of his way to beat me to a seat. But even that douchiness doesn't hold a candle to some of the comments on that chivalrous guy's Facebook page or even on the HuffPo article, like this charmer.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Thursday evening roundup and follow-up on AAdvantage situation

FP points out that The Lady is human, as are her freedom-fighting counterparts around the world. The article is well framed to not detract from Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's life's work but to point out that there's always room for improvement.

I am not a shoe addict.

Re: the AAdvantage saga: Jesus at e-Shopping has sent me another useless form message, although this time he had the decency to definitively point out that my purchase was ineligible for miles because I wasn't registered at e-Shopping at the time. Thing is, there was no sign I had to be.

Here's what happened: I went to AA's site and searched for "Bose," ending up on this site, which, you may note, says nothing about registering for e-Shopping. Not even the Terms and Conditions, excerpted below, or in the fine print on the next site in the process, which asked for my name and AAdvantage number, which I entered to purchase the headset. At no point was I informed that there was even registration to be had, much less required.

Terms and Conditions follow. If you can spot the requirement for an e-Shopping account, you are more astute than I.

Thursday morning roundup

Is the President showing leadership on fighting human trafficking?

They found the guys who assaulted Thomas Maslin; he's continuing to recover.

Christian iconography wasn't always a given.

When fact-checkers were even more overwhelmed.

The bottom quarter of this table is the most stunning. It's one thing to be blind to more indirect government benefits, but that many people getting a pretty clear transfer of funds have no idea they're doing it?

There's no lack of empathy for the poor and struggling on my part, but columns like this induce my eyes to roll, especially when it comes to "I didn't get a raise, I can't afford a designer bag." That kind of thing is the danger of journalism by going to a discount store and talking to people. Look: I know these discount stores intimately. My parents shopped at them exclusively, and did when I was a kid. It's what I grew up with. My parents never took me back-to-school shopping every year, because that was a foreign concept. But I digress. Ms. Dvorak cheapens the point of her column--which you'd think would be about people who are really struggling--with poverty "creep," i.e., "wah, I couldn't afford a Liz Claiborne bag."

Hmmm... the Bankrate tipping guide said not to leave hotel cleaning staff tips on or near the bed, but Budget Travel disagrees.

Vegan is normal is Southern California. Let's hope the effect spreads to the rest of the country. For restaurants, it really is just about "opening the vegan door." When I go out with friends--which is when I go out, and it happens to be regularly--I don't need an exclusively vegan menu (and in fact, most of my friends wouldn't go for that); I just need a few options. I have a recurring lunch date with some friends/coworkers, for which we usually go to Busboys and Poets. They get the Thai mussels, I get the vegan quesadilla. We always mean well and want to try something new, but always end up coming back to our favorite dish (actually, I tried the vegan calzone and it was gross; I like their vegan pizza but if if I'm the only one getting it, it's just too much food).

A non-vegan pastry chef was telling me that vegan desserts are more naturally tasty, because you can't just cheat and make something taste "good" by flooding it with butter and sugar.

I was just telling someone that wine should be a food group; it has more nutritional value than 80 percent of what passes for food in this country.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Tuesday evening roundup

I reiterate my longstanding philosophy: I won't stare at or shame you if you are making an effort to manage your child. If you're just sitting there while he or she wreaks havoc, consider yourself shamed. I once sat next to a kid who kept hitting the cast/sling I had on my arm and kicking my book out of my hands, while his father sat in the adjacent seat and completely ignored him. I was once on a night flight where a dad let his 7-ish year old daughter hop and skip down the aisles while everyone else was trying to sleep. I have only compassion for parents who make an effort to amuse/calm their child on a flight; I have only resentment and disdain for parents who cede their parenting responsibilities once they board.

It's true, I know hardly anyone's phone number. My now-ex had called me out on not knowing his, and now it's probably good that I don't, since I deleted all his contact info, and so can't send him this with a note that it's great news for him.

Awww, some people get confused by The Onion.

Lady Gaga stands her ground.

I embrace these guidelines for vegans. I was just waxing rhapsodic about umami on Twitter. I would also add--as I blogged last week--that it's important to not make yourself crazy, especially if you're just starting out. Pick your battles and don't worry about having your vegan card revoked. I'm aware that I don't fit the official definition of "vegan" or even "dietary vegan," because I can't affirmatively aver that I never consume animal products. I don't care if I can't call myself vegan because I had eggs for breakfast at the hotel in Budapest or trout in the small towns outside of Prague. I go out of my way to never eat animal products at home, and I don't crave them. But, like I said, if you're going to leave the house and especially the country, and have meals with friends, and you're not a celebrity/millionaire, chances are it'll be more practical to consume small amounts of eggs and/or dairy. Until it's a more vegan-friendly world, do what you need to do.

Can you believe "The Princess Bride" (the movie) turned 25? I just quoted it today, not knowing that (we were talking about odd but apt acronyms, which invoked ROUSes).

Customer service fail?

It's only fair to begin by stating that AAdvantage has been very, very good to me. Not only do I owe three vacations to them, but any combination of two of those vacations cost me fewer miles than my one trip to Europe using United miles. That's right: Ecuador+Japan (two round trips) on American cost me the same amount of miles as the one trip to Budapest and from Prague on United.

It's because AAdvantage miles are so valuable that I prefer that mine do not expire in November. To keep that from happening, I purchased Bose noiseblockers through the AAdvantage site. I was thinking about getting them anyway, but the expiring miles were added motivation. It should also be noted that this cost me more than I would have paid had I gone through Bose directly, since I had to pay for shipping and lost out on some other freebie (that I didn't particularly care about anyway, but I'm just saying).

I was slightly concerned when I didn't see any reference to AAdvantage on my Bose receipt, so I called AAdvantage. They directed me to their e-shopping number, but also suggested I wait six-eight weeks to let the miles do their thing. So I did. Then, I got distracted by other matters, such as getting my wisdom teeth pulled (and attempting to get fully reimbursed by my insurance; this effort appears to be bearing fruit this week). And traveling for work. And being really, really busy at work, and so not being able to follow up during business hours.

So I e-mailed the shopping people with the details of my order. I mentioned that my existing miles would be expiring soon, so I was interested in resolving this quickly. I provided the order number, order date, etc. And then I got an e-mail from Jesus in customer service:
We are sorry to hear that you are experiencing difficulties. After reviewing our records, we are unable to locate an AAdvantage eShopping account for you.
Well, that doesn't answer my question, does it, Jesus? First of all, when I placed my order--through a link on AAdvantage's site--there was nothing about having to have an eShopping account in order to get mileage credit. Second, I once worked in customer service, and I learned in training that the reason it's called customer service is that you resolve the customer's issue. You do not, emphatically, tell the customer that she's not your problem. Ideally, you do the calling/asking around and figure out what the issue is. I understand how that's not feasible in bigger companies with looser affiliations. Nonetheless, customers don't appreciate not being given helpful information. Register for an eShopping account (which, by the way, I've twice tried to do, from different computers, only to get error messages both time) and then what? Then I'll get my mileage credit? Or am I out of luck anyway?

Here's why customer service matters, my friends: had I gotten some kind of useful information, even "sorry, you're out of luck; take yourself to Chicago for a day if you want to keep your miles," I probably would have just called AAdvantage at the next opportunity. But I was essentially told to bugger off, which hurt my feelings, so I took to Twitter.

To their credit, AAdvantage has been responsive and is apparently working on my issue.

Tuesday morning roundup

As Spain goes hungry, dumpster-diving goes mainstream.

Workers in China are more aware of their rights and more willing to demand them, to mixed effect.

SuperPACs are synching their message.

Check out Jill Lepore's fascinating history of political campaign advertising.

Does what's become of the campaign process destroy candidates and their families?

We're all mourning the panda cub.

The cod fertility crisis.

Eat kale, but not too much. It's the one vegetable I've managed to successfully grow two years in a row.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Monday evening roundup

Honduras is lawless in a tragic way. Vietnam persecutes bloggers. Argentina clamps down on opposition media.

I thought this story about National Airport crowding was sensational, until a friend let me know he'd missed a flight in spite of arriving an hour early.

Flying etiquette allows for requests but also allows for them to be declined.

Yeah, when you're vegan, everyone's a nutrition expert. More here:
"Everybody cares what I eat now," Foster said. "They didn't care before, but they do now. Everybody is a nutritionist now and they're an expert on protein. Every day, every single day somebody knows something new to do. I just smile and say, 'OK.' "  
This is my favorite:
"Then I did some research with doctors who in their world are considered kind of radical. To me, it's radical we have heart disease and 12-year-old kids with diabetes."
 So true.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Sunday evening roundup

Ben McGrath gives us a great example of saying something in more complicated terms than perhaps necessary, but it's worth it, because the phrasing--with regard to former Congressman Weiner's "penchant for below-the-belt self-portraiture"--adds value.

Do you live in or near a hipsterhood, like H Street (NE)?

Public service message to people with strollers and suitcases on the metro: don't hot the aisle like this couple, especially when there's plenty of room at the end of the car: 

Sunday morning roundup

India's child trafficking epidemic has been facilitated by apathy.

Malta, whose land area is a tenth of Rhode Island's, is facing a refugee crisis.

The story of North Korea's star redefector is complicated.

The Ukrainian Famine Memorial raises issues. A lot of them.

It's brutal to let go of pets, but even more brutal to keep them alive if all there is for them is suffering.

How do internet companies "manage" hate speech? Also, quote of the day, courtesy of Nicholas Kristof: "The freedom to be an imbecile is one of our core values."

Data centers use a lot of energy but waste even more. Is there another way?

Executive skills are not as transferable as previously believed, so don't worry about underpaying corporate CEOs.

Can the haters leave Lady Gaga alone? Are the people calling her 'meaty,' less so?

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Saturday evening roundup

I sent my dad this Times piece on Russian dictators throughout the ages "humanely" intervening to spare censored and/or persecuted writers and artists. He replied that Mandelstam was killed by Stalin, and Pasternak by Khrushchev, and that Shostakovich was accused of "political incorrectness" (I think he means incitement or some such thing) and some famous soviet conductors were afraid to play his symphonies.

Dad also told me that Gogol's "The Government Inspector" was required watching when he was in eighth grade. I saw STC's production production of it today and enjoyed it, but if didn't feel Russian (the way, say, Sydney Theater's "Uncle Vanya," did). Michael Kahn directed it as if it were a Moliere or a Shakespearean comedy. I'm not sure how this could have been different; the set and costumes were perfect, and I'm glad he didn't try for Russian accents. But, apart from the scene where the peasants tell their stories, it felt like Gogol set in France.

If you're going to tell people to learn English, the least you can do is learn English.

Are those less or more hypocritical than the guy on social security holding the "No Redistribution to Freeloaders" sign? That's a Craig T. Nelson if I every heard one.

That's one awesome poem-tattoo.

A smartphone-abroad user's guide for everyone.

Plant-based diets are good for you.

Oh, I did end up going to Vegfest, which was okay. Ironically, I ended up going because it was not far from where my friend's dachshund would compete in the Wiener 500, but I got distracted--in conversation with fellow vegans--and then a bit lost, and missed the race (and then had to get a move on to get to the theater). What I will tell you, from the turnout, is that you (businesses) ignore us to your own detriment.

Tomorrow I'll see if I can hit the National Book Festival on the way to the theater. Gotta love this city.

Follow up ramble

Yesterday I wrote that the essentials of writing--for non-fiction in particular--were clarity and accuracy. I wrote that in the context of a rant against cryptic, pretentious writing (and speaking). Today I come in peace; I got the rant out of my system, but I have more to say about clarity and accuracy. Mainly that these two principles often conflict with one another.

Let's back up a step and restate that principle I hope I hammered home in yesterday's post: when you're writing non-fiction, your foremost goal is convey information in a way that minimizes confusion and exertion on the part of the reader. This principle applies whether you're writing instructions for putting together a bookcase or a dissertation on the history of green tea. Whatever the nature of the information you are trying to convey, your job is to convey it as directly as possible. And in some cases it's not as possible as in others.

I'm painfully aware of how hard it can be to write well when you have complex information to convey, because that's what I do at work. The reality is that some highly technical information, whether the source of the complexity is scientific, economic, or bureaucratic, is never going to sound pretty; all you can do is minimize the ugly--which becomes all the more important. That's when you have to pay extra attention to ensure, for example, that all the parts of a statement correspond as they should.

To help us craft our highly complex statements with utmost clarity, we work with editors. I, personally, love working with editors. They'll offer up a quick fix when you're stuck, and they'll let you know when what you've written makes no sense to anyone who's not an expert in the topic. They'll also let you know when what you've written makes no sense, period. But here's the other thing about editors: they focus on clarity and flow, sometimes at the expense of accuracy. They'll say, "how about this?" and you say, "I see how much better that reads, but that's not what we need to say; it's not technically correct. Unfortunately, what's technically correct cannot be stated so simply." Thankfully, the editors I work with are very responsive such protests, and we continue together to work out the best tradeoff between flow and technical accuracy. For us, inaccuracy is not an option. But either is confusion.

Here's a common example: "Indonesia has the highest population of any Muslim-majority country." One may be tempted to re-write that as "Indonesia has the highest population of Muslims in the world," etc., but that's a very different statement, and not an accurate one. India has the highest population of Muslims in the world (but it is not a Muslim-majority country). When looking for the simplest way to state something, take care that you're still saying what you mean. That may cut away from your clarity (i.e., the reader may have to do a little more work), but that kind of work is included in the reader contract. It's when writers throw in 'extras' that add no value, either in content or form, that the reader has to go into unnecessary overtime.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Friday evening ramble/rant

I fall prey to vanity but I don't let it consume me, so if you're sick of hearing me rant about the physical state of men, this rant is for you: I've moved on to the literary state of men. 

First: I've had trouble for a while articulating exactly what bothers me about Junot Diaz, apart from the fact that people are falling over themselves to worship at his feet when he's just not all that. But there's always been something else, and I've finally found it, in the words of Virginia Vitzthum:
Díaz says it’s important to map a mind like Yunior’s because “it’s astonishing how little we understand male subjectivity.” At which point my jaw discreetly drops: Is he calling this stuff under­ reported?! Yes, Díaz’s voice is fresh, as is the Dominican/New Jersey working-class nerd-turned-academic perspective. But I’ve been reading about women through a lens of leering contempt forever. That men reduce women to body parts and to their sexual withholding/putting-out/performance is not a revelation. Recording that reductiveness without comment, exploration, or illumination does not a successful “feminist-aligned project” make.
So I say, not to Díaz, but to This Is How You Lose Her: About my failure to engage productively with your maps of male subjectivity? It’s not me, it’s you.
That sums it up, and now that I've gotten it out of my system, I can quit expressing my bewilderment at Mr. Diaz's success.

And so I'll move on to men much less articulate than Mr. Diaz: most of the men who are interested in dating me. My favorite quote on this matter is (of course) credited to the late, great Nora Ephron, as articulated by Rosie O'Donnell in "Sleepless in Seattle": "Verbal ability is a highly overrated thing in a guy and our pathetic need for it is what gets us into so much trouble." Touché. (If anyone's counting, this has to be the third or fourth time I've used that quote on this blog).

A couple of years ago, a (male) friend--one who appreciates and compliments my writing skills--made fun of me for expecting my "suitors" to have a Pulitzer. If only. I was very happy, later, to send him this study about how matching language styles are not bad predictors of compatibility.

Most of the guys who express interest in me are barely literate; those guys are easy to ignore, and they're not worth writing about. But there's another breed of guy: the pompous ass who thinks the longer the words, the smarter he appears. You just want to mail him a copy of "The Elements of Style," but you can't be asked. So you take to your blog.

Look, guys (and ladies, if this applies to you): using big words does not make you a good writer. Being cryptic does not make you a good writer; it makes you a bad writer. Please do not write, "how would you characterize the nature of these events" when "tell me more about this" will do. Not only because the former sounds ridiculous, but also because I don't want to have to think about what the f* you mean. It's like wearing a long, silk ball gown to clean your house: it comes off as absurd and it gets in the way of what you're trying to do.

Big words are not always inappropriate; sometimes, they hit the spot. The other day, I'd sent my coworkers a follow-up e-mail along the lines of, "my understanding is that K is getting in touch with these people, G is getting in touch with those people, I'm getting in touch with these other people--but not until later--and I'm also putting together this summary paper, etc. do I have that right?" K wrote back to say, "that accords with my recollection." That was fine. He could have said, "that's what I remember," but what he did say was no worse. It was not unclear; it did not get in the way; I did not have to close-read it to understand what he meant. It didn't give me a headache.

An example of the opposite: I went out with a guy a year or so ago who made no sense:

A.: So, what was it about your trip that you didn't enjoy?
Guy: I ended up vagabonding through the continent, and I hadn't intended to vagabond through the continent.

I wanted to say, "what the f* does that mean," but it wasn't worth it; he'd already lost me. The whole date was like that, and by the time he came out with that response, I was exhausted and waving the white flag of "please just stop talking." The amount of work it would take to get a straight answer out of this guy was more than I'd signed up for.

It should not have to be that way: conversation shouldn't have to be that way, and written correspondence shouldn't be that way.

Don't say "what is the cause for your disappointment?" when "why were you disappointed" is less likely to make your reader want to strangle you. We should all know not to use big words when short words will do, but do we also know not to use many words when fewer will do? And do we understand that it's less about bigger or shorter, and more about the words that best convey your meaning and connotation? Don't use the word "regarding" when "about" will do, not just because it's pompous, but more importantly, because it doesn't work.

When I think about language that inspires me, it is not language that makes me think, "WTF??" Here's an example of a sentence so good as to make me stop to think about it. Note that the writer--Jessanne Collins--wastes no words here:

"And I had been caught red-handed doing something ironic with a cupcake."

It's thought-provoking, not exhausting. It's evocative of the times, not of the thesaurus. It's brilliant because it's simple.

Note: even though I've complained about how Mr. Diaz's writing exhausts me, I don't hold it against him; I just prefer not to read it. But I appreciate that fiction sometimes entails stylized language.

As far as non-fiction goes, however, clarity and accuracy are its most essential qualities. Your reader shouldn't have to fight through your language to get to your message. Even with fiction, where mystery is good, confusion is bad. It's wonderful if your writing makes your readers think, but any work on the part of the reader should happen beyond the words. If there's analysis to be had, save it for the concepts, not the language. No reader wants to have to translate from gobbledygook to English (or any other language); that's your job, between the thoughts' appearance in your head and their transmission to anyone else. To write otherwise is to verbally masturbate and expect your readers to clean up the mess.

Friday evening roundup

Anti-extremist Libyans are not f*ing around.

Bad immigration policy is bad for agriculture.

Asia's men have not ended. More interesting is this take-down of Rosin's use of statistics.

Another Malaysian airline lets you live the (child-free flight) dream.

They've mapped Gracie! Her color scheme, anyway; they may still be working on the tabby predilection for neediness and whining.

For the record, I was giving my then-bf $hit about the three Ayn Rand books on his bookshelf before it was cool.

Friday morning roundup

Environmentalism started out as a no-brainer, not a controversy.

Speaking of no brains, meet Virginia's attorney general.

Poverty is draining.

"Math is hard! Let's go shopping!"

I, too, am one of the five percent. We are probably over-represented in the area. I don't suggest that you join us whole-hog, but it can't hurt to put a little foreign policy in your vote. But there's something that Mr. Drezner did not mention: historically, at least, foreign policy issues have not--and many still do not--fall cleanly along party lines. And, as he did mention, the issues choose themselves.

How is your relationship with food?

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Thursday evening roundup

Petula Dvorak's public service message is spot on: creeps don't always (or usually) look like creeps. Creeps come from all socioeconomic classes.

If the thought of consuming sludge and God knows what else hasn't kept you from Thai-origin shrimp, consider the labor issues.

I love the #muslimrage satire. Check out that camel.

Thank NAFTA for your guacamole.

(Most) Americans don't have a problem with society and safety nets.

When did European women start covering their breasts? Apparently, in Ancient Greek times.

Is this woman my mother? Some people just can't understand that their right to self-expression has to be tempered by the impact of that expression.

How you should manage your will power depends on the situation.

Regarding my recent rants, see the first comment.

I'm a shrill bitch, too--is there a club I can join?

Vegfest DC is on Saturday!

Mmmm, I'm so making a vegan version of this fried sushi:

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Wednesday evening roundup and ramble

GMOs may have made weeds resistant to Agent Orange.

Here's another conservative take on moochergate.

Mr. Frum leaves a lot unsaid (for example, that medications designated as oral contraceptives have medicinal purposes and so may serve a medical need, and thus should not be denied by anything that calls itself health insurance, whether or not that insurance is provided by a religious institution; also, that most of Ms. Fluke's testimony concerned these medicinal purposes), but he also makes many excellent points. I had not seen so many slurs against Sandra Fluke so efficiently collected in one column.

Look, I was a grad student at Georgetown, not for its Jesuit affiliation, but because it's the best. This was the case for the vast majority of my classmates, and probably for many of the university's students. If the university is to provide health insurance, which it did, through Kaiser, that insurance had better cover students' (and employees') medical needs.

In that context, see what Naomi Wolf has to say.

Life is so much better when you love your body. Unconditionally.  Because you can have issues at size 2 as well as size 24. How does this statement mesh with my recent rants? First of all, a big source of my rants is the hypocrisy (women have to "take care of" their bodies, men don't? really?), the kind-of gross Date Lab guys who have the audacity to say they're date's not hot enough for them. It's a f* you, too.

Tuesday morning roundup

Europe's foreign ministers want to amp up integration.

Kathleen Parker explains the logic behind the moochergate statements. Dana Milbank has an agenda on behalf of the media. Jon Stewart's take:
The Daily Show with Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
The Millionaire Gaffemaker
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogThe Daily Show on Facebook

Also from Mr. Stewart, on last week's news:
The Daily Show with Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Actual Democalypse 2012
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogThe Daily Show on Facebook

More on that from Tom Friedman.

Organic methods can, under the right circumstances, result in yields similar to conventional methods, with a much lesser environmental impact.

I don't entirely buy into the equivalence--look, most people's babies are, by definition, more boring than anything else everyone else is doing, including eating sushi and going to Thailand. Thailand pictures can be interesting to a lot of people; your baby pictures are interesting to a select few. Then again, the overall argument here meshes with why I'm not on Facebook:
See, I think the problem I'm having here is that I've been operating under the apparently idiotic assumption that we all agree that social media is, by definition, a narcissistic pool of shameless self-promotion, a horrible tidal wave of drab solipsism where each person's pathetic post about their life ("Look at me! I matter! I am drinking a soy latte with a foam leaf imprint!") is only marginally redeemed by the very next, arguably more navel-gazing item in the newsfeed, exclaiming "No really! I matter, too, and I just ordered brunch at a new locally sourced organic restaurant!"
But the counterargument is at STFUparents. Friends and I were just talking about this on Saturday night: if it's boring, don't broadcast it. Whether it's your kid's poop or preference for carrot over peas, or your dog's preference for Iams over SciDi.

There are certainly kids worth listening to... like this one. Chris Kluwe has some competition for awesomeness in letter-writing. Let's keep the competition going, people.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Tuesday evening roundup and rant

More parsing of moochergate here, here, and here. That last one a home run by Alexandria Petri.

Let's quit the introvert bashing. That means you, Maureen Dowd.

Speaking of rare home runs, there's finally a Shouts and Murmurs that breaks the boring streak, and since we're on baseball analogies, hits it out of the park.

Bankrate's guide to tipping.

Milk (including soymilk) diminishes the antioxidant value of tea.

Neuroscience is a wonderful thing; don't succumb to pop-science simplifications. From that clarifying article, a great excerpt:
Love — for both men and women — does rely on the same circuitry that engenders addiction. It’s the same circuitry that fuels the desire to persist in frustrating tasks like parenting as well. Like addiction, both love and parenting involve continuing with behavior despite negative consequences. But that’s a good thing: we need to be a little bit irrational to stay with partners who are far from perfect and to deal with children who can easily drive adults mad.
That’s because the brain circuitry that drives us to love and to parent — the same region that can be derailed during addiction — isn’t the only part of our brain. Even in the throes of addiction, romantic obsession or the early chaotic days of parenting, we’re still capable of choice, and none of the neuroscience data proves otherwise. “Just because genes or a molecule modulate a behavior, it doesn’t mean that genes or molecules determine that behavior,” says Young. “People who are in love will generally engage in behavior that they wouldn’t normally do, but I don’t think that means they’re less responsible.”
and so,
The brain and female sexuality are extremely complicated — and reducing them to simplistic formulations that deny women their humanity fails to do justice to either feminism or science. Properly contextualized, neuroscience can add to our knowledge of sexuality, but not if it’s twisted to support sexist ideas about women as “animals” who are so addicted to love that they become zombies.
You may want to take this together with this study (in more equal societies, women care less about wealth and men less about appearance) and perhaps this study (arousal helps us overcome aversion to actions we'd otherwise find gross). Oh, and in conjunction with that first one, consider the recent findings about fathers' age in connection autism and schizophrenia risk. And consider all that in conjunction with yesterday's ramble. Because even though I'm not mad as hell, I'm not going to take it anymore. It being well-meaning lectures (from friends, dating "experts," etc.) about how [straight] women are too picky and need to get over it, because we need men more than they need us.

An ex-boyfriend from many years ago once said about a friend of mine (and yes, I know I should have walked away then, if not when he tried to convince me that Manuel Noriega could not have been from Panama) that she should be scared. Sound familiar? Lori Gottlieb turned it into a book. Women, in his view, got uglier and less fertile while men got richer, so time was on their side. But the first and third studies linked in the above paragraph undermine that whole thing, and the middle study reminds us that arousal is important. Taken together, the studies tell us this: we ladies no longer need you, so we're gonna hafta want you if there's gonna be a relationship. (And--see yesterday's ramble--if we're gonna want you, you'd better get your @$$es to the gym and then to Banana Republic; sweat pants are v@&!^@ killers). Oh, and read a book or do something with yourself, because so is being boring. Have you been too busy working--whether to make money or save the world--to develop a personality? I appreciate your work ethic and/or sense of social responsibility, but that's not enough to make me want to date you.

But let's get back to the physical aspect of this, which is not the most important part, but the one that got me going yesterday. I was talking to an acquaintance/coworker about this, wondered to her whether I should feel guilty about being turned off by chubby guys. She pounced (not on me):
All I ask is commensurate with what I bring to a relationship. I work out six days a week. I have three degrees. I can support myself. I am not asking that I date a bodybuilder; I'm not asking to date only within MENSA; I'm not asking for a football player with a football player's salary. All that I ask is that a guy put a little bit of pride and effort into his appearance, and that he be somewhat educated.
Those were her words, and actually, I feel less strongly about these equivalences than she does; I find that people can bring different things to a relationship. A guy can have fewer degrees and be less buff and still be an amazing guy (but then be an amazing guy--that's what really matters!). A guy can bring different things to the relationship than you do. I allow for that. The point is, you have to bring something to the relationship.

The other point is, you can't defy the laws of nature--in this case, of chemistry. You cannot, in this day and age, be out of shape and boring and still expect the ladies to flock to you (see that second article about the need for arousal).

So you--you exes, internet trolls, well meaning friends--can stop lecturing women about how we'd best settle. You (guys out there) are going to have to shape up and man up, so that, since we no longer need you, we'll want you.

Tuesday morning roundup

Ezra Klein parses the "taker class" as does Dave Brooks.

The history of auto safety in a graph.

This would not be a good time to trade jobs with Michael Oren.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Monday evening roundup and ramble

You have a right to know what's in your food. Period.

I disagree with the "you should have known" argument concerning the topless DOC pictures. The writer's analogies do not hold; a locker room where there are cameras is not private property. Even celebrities, for there sanity, have to have an expectation of privacy. The bigger issue here is why any of this matters (and this is not to slam the DOC, whose privacy was indeed invaded). Why the hell do we care what anyone's breasts look like?

While we're on the topic of body issues, I sent an e-mail today that might put me into the 'horrible person' category. Jay sent me a (political) video of hot, swim-trunk-clad, gay men, and my reaction was, "damn, if only straight men had half the body obsession that gay men have." I don't actually wish body obsession on anyone, gay or straight, male or female. You can access my views on body image elsewhere on these pages, should you care. Those views aside, however, I can't help but think, "now, if only the men I dated were remotely that hot..." I'm sorry, (straight) guys, but you've gotta up your game. Yes, I'd be offended if a guy said the same thing to/about women, and for some reason, I can find women of all shapes and sizes beautiful (perhaps because I don't appraise them for relationship potential). So it's a double-standard. But it's in contrast to the society-wide double-standard that holds women to a higher standard of fitness. Look, I'm not proud of this, and I'm sure I could get over it if the "right" guy came along (just like I got over my aversion to facial hair, albeit temporarily, with my last bf), but we can't really help whom we're attracted to. Help me be attracted to you by getting your @$$ to the gym. I'm not asking you to look like the guys in the video; in fact, if you did, I'd roll my eyes and deem you too obsessed. I'm just asking for a little effort.

Can we talk a bit about the guys I've been going on dates with? Call it irony or tragicomedy, but God has sent me exactly what I've asked for... only (apologies to Dar Williams) in ridiculous packaging. And, in spite of the paragraph above, I don't (just or even primarily) mean physical packaging. After my most recent breakup, I did a thorough audit of what worked and what didn't, both on my part and on his. I considered what I would like to do better next time around, as well as what I now knew I was looking for (and running away from). For example, I knew I was (am) looking for interested in travel and adventure; somewhat spiritual and interested in self-improvement. Among the things that I hadn't previously realized were important to me, but turned out to be so--and this is something that actually did characterize my most recent ex (F.)--was a good relationship with cats. I expressed this to a friend of mine (with two cats), who said, "careful about articulating that... or if you do, watch the men run away in droves." But then, lo and behold, there's a guy interested in me who unabashedly loves cats.

I'm not trying to make this about cats; it's about "ask and you shall receive." I've asked, and I've received, in addition to guys who like cats, guys who love to travel and/or hike; guys who are ten times more spiritual than I am (i.e., maybe too spiritual); guys with a huge sense of social responsibility; guys who are vegetarians (I didn't even ask for that one!); etc. And it's not even that all this good stuff hasn't come in a single package; it's usually that when it has, there was something extraordinarily odd about these guys. But even when there's not, there's the "too much" issue, and/or the balance thing.

I don't want to date someone who's just like me; I want to date someone who balances me out. And for a while, I thought F. was that person. For example, I was glad to date someone who didn't hate driving, since I did. In that vein, I probably should not date someone who is more of a conserver, or more of a hippie than I am. A couple of years ago, I went out with a guy who told me on the first or second date that he was too cheap to turn on the heat (this in the context of baking bread in the winter, but not in the summer). That was not the immediate turn-off for me that it would have been for most women; I understand that impulse, which is why I don't need it in a partner. I tend toward conserving things--more for environmental reasons than financial ones--and I realize that it would be better for me to be with someone who balances me in the other direction.

So I've asked, and I'm receiving. I can't say I'm not. Bring on the cat-lovers, the adventurers, the travelers, the meditators, the vegetarians/vegans, and those who would balance me out. Just please put it all in one package and throw in some chemistry.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Sunday evening roundup

My fears/suspicions are confirmed: it appears I am the only one who cannot f*ing stand the way Junot Diaz writes. At one point I considered canceling my subscription to the New Yorker if they kept bombarding me with his stories every other week.

Etiquette is not trivial. That said, there's no need to extend one's pinkie finger when drinking tea.

Look at all the (mostly) pretty dresses.

Sunday afternoon roundup

Corruption in India inspires as much shock as gambling in a casino. In China, a local official's collection of luxury watches sparks ire.

Why does the world have to lose Ambassador Stevens?

Oh, ironic timing: Salman Rushdie's memoir is published, and Jonathan Yardley says it's worth every page.

A new book on the bloody history of bananas appears to be poorly sourced.

The claims and content of Hanna Rosin's attention-grabbing book are poorly argued and shoddily substantiated.

Charity could use a new business model. And less telemarketing.

Can interpartisan relationships work?

Drivers and cyclists can and must coexist.

This goes for more than couples, to all relationships: it's important to manage your divergent communication preferences.

Ooh, color blocking and stripes.

Response to comment and ramble

Response to comment: the things is, I generally don't order bread. The bread I tend to consume (apart from the bread I occasionally buy, which is vegan, and usually Ultimate Grains brand or Eziekel) falls into four categories: (1) ordered as part of a sandwich labeled vegan; (2) brought out to the table; (3) part of the only vaguely vegetarian sandwich on the menu, so it's already a bad situation; and (4) served by hosts outside a restaurant setting. In the first situation, I'm in the clear. In the next two--and I realize this is a luxury, since I'm not allergic--I'll only eat the bread if I'm hungry enough that I don't care (since the diary content tends to be trace, anyway). At the game, I ended up leaving most of the bun. Also, in some restaurants, the servers will state that there's dairy in the bread (as in the trace amounts in the table bread at Zaytinya). In the fourth case (for example, when we were served lunch), if there are options other than bread, I'll usually go for those, and if there aren't, I'll just eat it (in fact, in the case this past week, I ended up eating an egg sandwich--again, a 'luxury' since I'm not allergic). In a way, people with food allergies have more leeway in the those situations, because it's more appropriate to inform one's hosts of the issue than if it's just a preference (I suppose the same goes for religious dietary restrictions).

For 'ethically-motivated' vegans, every individual has to pick her battles. My personal philosophy is that small amounts of dairy and eggs once in a while, particularly as served 'generally' (i.e., not specifically ordered), are not going to change anything (i.e., increase demand for animal products). And unless you're allergic or intolerant, they're sure as hell not going to affect you health-wise. If you're going to leave the house, and particularly if you're going to leave the country, you're going to have to make some trade-offs. Unless you travel with a personal chef or otherwise have unlimited resources or can be bothered to bring your own food everywhere.

I have mixed feelings about things like wine (often produced with egg or even pork fat) and sugar (half of which is processed over bone char). Is this one of those things where if vegetarians and vegans made more noise, producers would at least be better at labeling and at best reconsider how they source their products? I don't consume a lot of sugar (I cook with turbinado, etc.) but I do get dark chocolate, which has some sugar. I am not willing to trade in my $5/lb Trader Joe's 72 percent chocolate for chocolate definitively labeled vegan (i.e., the sugar is known to be vegan). Does that make me part of the problem? In part, yes. Most vegetarians I know are furious about both, particularly because the potential involvement of animal products is not known or labeled. We just don't know what to do about it without spending a lot more money (in the case of dark chocolate) or severely limiting our choices (in the case of wine). I tend to go for sustainable wines, for the most part, and I can only hope that these are vegetarian, if not vegan. On that note, I had an exquisite glass of pinot noir at a friend's birthday celebration last night. I did not ask whether it was vegan, but it does appear to be certified sustainable. Is PETA on this labeling thing?

Last night at the birthday celebration, I talked to a couple who had met online. The guy talked about what drew him to his now-girlfriend's online profile: she was a nurse, so you knew she was smart, educated, and professional. So much for "guys don't care about intelligence" and "guys don't care about what you do."

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Saturday afternoon roundup

Poverty is not a game or an exotic state everyone grows out of.

Les Champs Elysées are losing their uniqueness.

The Meads gave so much to make DC theater better, and so left DC a much better place.

Why do TV pilots generally suck?

This almost makes me want to drink Dr. Pepper.

This is one of those instances where following my own rules would have saved me a lot of trouble: don't date people who like Ayn Rand. Just don't.

So close and yet somewhat foreign

I took some pictures north of the border for you... and maybe I'll even figure out how to transfer them here from my work-issued Blackberry, before I have to return it. Bluetooth doesn't seem to be helping (nor does attaching an actual cable), which is why it may come down to attaching each picture individually to an e-mail. This is just one of many reasons that I should have brought my camera, which I'd listed under the 'optional' part of my packing list, and so did not make the cut by the time I had to leave on Monday (as you might have gathered from my post). Oh, Dulles: I was parked at 11am and still didn't get to the gate until noon or just after, when my colleagues were already boarding and wondering whether I'd make it. You may recall that two weeks ago, I was at the gate at National less than twenty minutes after leaving the house; at Dulles, it took me three times that long just to get to the gate from a not-too-distant parking lot (indeed, the walk to the terminal accounted for merely ten minutes of that hour). The security line was so ridiculous that they actually stopped it for a good fifteen minutes to let it clear. But I'll quit boring you with logistics.

Scratch that, let me bore you with a different set of logistics: f*ing Blackberries. Back when I used Jay's, in Japan, it was my first-ever experience with a smartphone. I didn't understand how user-hostile it was because I had no point of comparison then. Well, I can now vouch for the user-hostility of that that thing. My colleagues and I could barely figure out how to turn it off for the flight (the off button wasn't doing it). Later, I was trying to do something by tapping on the screen, like a monkey. It had to be explained to me by my (older) colleagues that the screen couldn't hear (er, feel) me. That thing continued to fluster and frustrate throughout the trip, though I later felt bad about having dubbed it "that piece of $hit" because it saved my @ss on the way (back) to the airport, after I'd dropped off my more laden, bag-checking colleagues at the terminal to go return the car and fell victim to poor signage that brought me to the area's labyrinthine industrial parks, until I eventually managed to pull over and ask the Blackberry to set me straight. It was not stressful, as my colleagues had insisted that we allow double the time I'd suggested for getting to the airport. As such, I managed to return the car by 8:30am, which is the time at which, had it been up to me, we would have been just leaving the hotel.

I brought the Droid, too, to use by wifi at the hotels. At first, I had the same problem I'd had in Europe: the wifi kept turning itself off. I'd figured out that AT&T's "smart" wifi app was the problem (regardless of its setting); once I disabled it, everything was fine. The Droid was so much easier to use for (almost) everything, but the Blackberry did what it was supposed to do: grant us easy access to work e-mail and allow us to call each other (or make other phone calls as needed) at no expense to ourselves. Also, the GPS function was invaluable, and it (i.e., Google Maps) was almost as usable as it was on the Droid. Having had the Droid for a few months also made me better at figuring out the Blackberry. Alright, now that we've covered the technology, let's get on to to good stuff.

Oh, in case you were wondering, no celebrities crossed our paths. I hadn't thought about it, until one of the people we'd met with in Ottawa said he'd been at the Madonna concert the night before, and that night she was on TV, being interviewed about the TIFF (hopefully at this year's festival she'll sidestep any hydrangea controversies). She apparently has a mutually antagonistic relationship with Toronto, but they love her in Ottawa.

Everything about this trip was awesome: the weather, the food, the work (interesting as well as productive), the people, and the places. I'd heard that Ottawa was a pretty cool place but never made it over there until now to find out for myself. I'd go back, especially because we didn't have time to check out any of the museums. We did get a chance to walk around town a bit and see the market,

and the views around the Parliament and the river.

Sorry about the van--that picture was actually taken out of the car, so I had limited time to get the shot. I'll also have some cool gargoyle photos to share, but I took them with a colleague's Blackberry, so I haven't recovered them yet. Anyway, more parliament-related structures:

We also made the most of the sidewalk cafes (the second picture below is the view from the sidewalk cafe on the left).

Ottawa was elegant and quirky (though our meeting hosts said not to get excited; the Byward Market area, where we stayed, was indeed very exciting, but apparently not representative of the rest of the city).

Toronto reminded me of Shanghai (tall buildings, cranes, craziness) and the others of Chicago. Both were bustling.

In Ottawa, the sidewalk cafes were plentiful and on the sidewalk; in Toronto, such cafes were more often on the street, with a lane blocked off for them.

Here you can see a street-lane "sidewalk" cafe on the left, with Ryerson University buildings across the street (on the right). Just left of the university buildings, you can see part of Zanzibar's banner.
Look what Zanzibar is offering as a a back-to-school special.

 Now check out this cool building, and the cool, random clock tower:

Veggie dogs!

Vegan cupcakes!

There was lots of easily available vegan food, except for breakfast (I ended up tiding myself over with a hotel apple the first morning in Ottawa and getting a whole wheat tofu wrap from Peace Market the night before the second). For dinner, we had Vietnamese and then bar food (for me, that was tofu pad thai that tasted nothing like pad thai, but was good nonetheless).  In Toronto, I had an amazing sesame tempeh sandwich at Urban Herbivore, and sadly did not have room for dessert. Especially toward the end of the trip, I found myself eating more bread than is humanly necessary. We went to an Italian place our first night in Toronto that had amazing fresh bread and really good dipping oil and vinegar (you know I don't f* around with balsamic). The next day, it was sandwiches for lunch (kindly provided by our hosts), that tempeh sandwich for a snack, and a "garden" burger (really a boca burger) on ciabatta at the game. I was just so done with bread, not for any nutritional impulse but because, with the exception of the fresh bread at the Italian place and the (also fresh) whole wheat bread at Urban Herbivore, it was just blah.

I was hoping--spare me your protests of 'first world problems'--that the bread might fatten me up, but it did not. Why should you spare me the protests? Because my f*ing clothes are falling off, even the ones I bought a few months ago when I'd already lost a bunch of weight. And you know how hotel rooms have a lot of mirrors, so you end up seeing your reflection a lot more than you would at home? At one point, I reached up to get something--I was across from the mirrored closet doors in the room--and I could see my ribs. Which I never signed on for. And yet, at the same time, I get why mainstream models tend to be emaciated: you can be mostly thin and still have flabby spots, so to come off as uniformly thin, you'd have to be bony. (In case you were wondering, I have no interest in bony). Plus, in my case, between the fact that I like to eat (mostly carbs) and the fact that I like olives and other pickled, salty foods, I regularly sport second-trimester food babies.

But enough about me; check out the game and the CN Tower:

Monday, September 10, 2012

Monday morning roundup

I'm leaving from a farther airport, so I can't push it like I did last week (i.e., leave the house about an hour before departure time). So my laundry better get dry in the next ten minutes. In the meantime, here's your roundup.

Mexico is buying a $hit-ton of American products.

All kinds of power plants struggle when water is in short supply.

Companies who piss off their customers have Twitter to contend with.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

How does this mesh with my lack of femininity?

I'm packing for my business trip, thinking about what shoes to bring. I need a pair of heels for the skirt-suit I'm bringing, but I've found that all the heeled shoes I have in the house (as opposed to the more conservative ones I keep at work, that I didn't think to grab) are peep-toed. And I just don't know if that's okay where I'm going. It'll have to do for that one day.

Just be yourself

I had previously urged you--independently and by quoting the wise women at Jezebel, among others--to drown out the noise about what's wrong with you. Yes, you should dump the asshole who makes you feel bad about yourself. There's no room in a healthy relationship for "I love you despite..." or "I'd love you more if..." You accept the person as-is, or you go find someone you can accept as-is. I also urge you to ignore well-meaning busybodies outside the relationship who tell you how to be. Note: I'm not saying we can't all work on our relationship skills and manage the things that can work better, but there's a difference between, for example, asking someone to adjust the way he or she communicates, and asking him or her to be a different person.

Most of the above links discuss physical appearance, but the last one also talks about personality, demeanor, and bearing. Or as Jay would say, quoting "Steel Magnolias," one's carriage and demeanor. Mom, you will have noticed, has increasingly shifted the proportion of her nagging from physical appearance to matters of carriage and demeanor: I'm too harsh and cold, and insufficiently feminine and "kitten-like."

And don't forget that I'm an extremist, because of the way I eat. On that last one, I think I told you that a guy essentially said to me, "I'd be willing to go out with you, even though I'm not thrilled with this vegan thing." Take it or leave it. You either have a problem with it or you don't. But the more relevant point there is, as I wrote about the other day, if vegan [or insert other dietary habit here] is who you are and you believe in it, the worst thing you can do is betray that part of yourself to increase your dating pool. Who am I to tell you what the worst thing to do is, but I will anyway: the worst thing you can do is to try to be somebody else.

The bulk of my friends' reactions to mom's most recent antics fall into two, non-mutually-exclusive categories: (1) She's delusional/that's really not you at all/where would she even get that stuff and (2) Why do you even have a relationship with her? She's toxic, and you need to get out. But there's a third, along the lines of, "even to the extent that you are less effusively warm-and-fuzzy, that's who you are, and you couldn't or shouldn't change that."

Take my mom's "carriage and demeanor" accusations--I'm cold, harsh, and overbearing, I talk too much, I'm insufficiently feminine, etc. Especially the last one. You know what? Just like there are married women of all weights, skin tones, skin qualities, etc., there are married women of all dispositions. I'm not even going to argue this one, because it's been said so well here, in response to Tracy McMillan's words that,
I am the mother of a 13-year-old boy, which is like living with the single-cell protozoa version of a husband. Here’s what my son wants out of life: macaroni and cheese, a video game, and Kim Kardashian. Have you ever seen Kim Kardashian angry? I didn’t think so. You’ve seen Kim Kardashian smile, wiggle, and make a sex tape.
The response: "I hate to tell you, lady, but dudes mature after thirteen."

If you'd like, we can come back to the fact that I'm single. If you should choose that as a basis for rolling your eyes when I say, "just be yourself," you're missing the point. What makes anyone think that you're going to be happier, married as not yourself, than single, as yourself? At least you get to be yourself. And if you're yourself, you can actually build relationships based on truth and a genuine connection. At the very least, you can be happy in your own skin.